Sunday, March 18, 2018

Going to the heart of the faith - True Happiness in the Beatitudes

Text for the Week: Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever. Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times. 

Welcome to our services and a special welcome to any who are worshipping with us for the first time. With the snow at its worst we had to postpone our Annual Meeting. And indeed with the return of the snow we had to cancel this evening's service.

This Thursday is the rearranged date. It’s an important meeting when we look back at the last year and look forward to the year that lies ahead. With the changes that will happen at our retirement in July that makes this year’s annual meeting particularly important. We will be electing two Deacons and appointing a Church Secretary, a Worship Ministry Leader and people to join our Ministry Leaders team. The Deacons will be giving an update on plans for the vacancy and beyond. Do remember the whole life of the church in your prayers. Please bring a copy of March Highbury News to the meeting.

In the run up to Easter we are exploring what is at the heart of the Christian Faith.

Looking to the God of creation I see things in a fresh perspective but that’s not enough for me.

I look to Jesus and see the God who is a God of love that transforms and changes my life and those around me.

What makes the faith Good News is that there is a strength I can draw on in the unseen yet very real power of the Spirit of God.

Such a faith helps shape the things we do with our lives. The 10 commandments amount to two, Love God and Love your Neighbour, and can be summed up in one word, Love. They provide a framework for living life to the full.

This week’s readings in Fresh from the Word take us to the Book of Lamentations and a time when everything seems to be falling apart. In such a time where better to turn than to the blessings of God in the words of the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I have always loved the use of the word 'Blessed' in the NRSV and loathed the use of the word 'happy' in our church Bibles, the Good News Bible. I thought I would make connections with a number of verses in the Psalms that start Blessed are .... But digging deeper I found that actually when those verses were translated into Greek a different word was used from the word that's here in Matthew 5. In fact, in the NRSV, the word used here in Matthew 5 is frequently used in the Psalms ... and always translated 'happy...'

NRS Psalm 2:12 Happy are all who take refuge in him.

NRS Psalm 32:1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
 2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

NRS Psalm 33:12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.

NRS Psalm 34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

NRS Psalm 40:4 Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.

NRS Psalm 41:1  Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.

NRS Psalm 84:4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah
 5 Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
 12 O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

NRS Psalm 89:15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your countenance;
NRS Psalm 94:12 Happy are those whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law,

NRS Psalm 106:3 Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.

NRS Psalm 112:1 Praise the LORD! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments.

NRS Psalm 119:1 Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.
 2 Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,

NRS Psalm 128:1 Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways.

So I re-visited the Beatitudes in the Good News Bible Translation/

We are obsessed with the pursuit of happiness. This week sees the international day of happiness ... and a league table has been published of nations who have a high happiness factor - Scandinavian countries score well, we come down the league table!

Maybe there is an insight in the words of Jesus that points us, as the heading of the GNB suggests, to true happiness.

True Happiness
(Lk 6.20–23)
3“Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor;
the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

Maybe we should be open and honest about our failings, it's OK not to be super-religious - indeed to live with the poverty of our spiritual lives is maybe the start of something important that can lift our spirits.

4 Happy are those who mourn;
God will comfort them!

This is the most difficult of them all! I usually cannot bring myself to say this. For those who mourn are not happy. And yet, with my reflections today i wanted to revisit this ... our culture finds 'mourning' 'grieving' difficult with that great 'stiff upper lip' we show to the world. Many employers allow three days of compassionate leave and beyond that you need a note from the doctor as if mourning were like a sickness that requires help from the doctor. Sometimes such help is needed and can be really valuable. But actually, it's OK to mourn. It's OK to grieve. Indeed, as so many other cultures recognise and we have to constantly re-learn, it is actually good to grieve. To bring our grief, our mourning out. For then we can discover help and strength from others and from beyond ourselves. To bottle up our grieving is the path that leads furthest from 'happiness'. The path to 'true happiness' lies through letting our mourning out so that then we can receive the comfort we need not just from those dearest to us who are able to give it, but from the love of God let loose in our hearts through that unseen yet real power of the comforter.

5 Happy are those who are humble;
they will receive what God has promised!

What a difference humility - not the humility of the door mat but the true humility that leaves its mark on others.

6 Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires;
God will satisfy them fully!

I much prefer the metaphors of the original ... happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice. The injustices of this world fill us with anger, with despair. To sit back and do nothing about them, to switch off and ignore them may suggest a route to happiness. But true happ;iness is found as we address those injustices in the way God wills.

7Happy are those who are merciful to others;
God will be merciful to them!

It is one of the mysteries of forgiveness that it can bring release from pent up anger that destroys. That's the discovery of the Truth and Reconciliation commission in South Africa and the Forgiveness Project in Northern Ireland.

8 Happy are the pure in heart;
they will see God!

So often our society gives us the impression that happiness lies in the things we accumulate. Actually it lies in the heart.

9Happy are those who work for peace;
God will call them his children!

This is one of the great calls Jesus makes - to be a peace maker and work for peace. Again it is in doing something about the hatred in the world that the path to true happiness lies.

10 Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires;
the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

This, like the one on mourning, is once again very difficult. And in a way we have no right to pass any comment. But in the last couple of years we have made links with the Persecuted Church through Open Door, through Embrace the Middle East and through Middle East Concern. The more we make those connections the more we discover that faith in that great big God, in the Jesus who opens up the way of love, in the power from beyond ourselves that is the Holy Spirit, makes a world of difference to those who face persecution. They are far from happiness ... and yet through their faith have a pathway to true happiness they share far more with us, than our concern can share with them.

I finished recalling one of those who has died recently ... not Billy Graham, not Stephen Hawking, but the one who made his name among other things with the song that is played at Whaddon Road after every Cheltenham Town Victory, and sadly this season has not been played often enough.

There was something special about Ken Dodd ... a remarkable achievement and a remarkable life. And through it all the pursuit of happiness. Maybe there's more to the song than at first meets the eye!


Happiness, happiness,
the greatest gift that I posses
I thank the Lord I've been blessed
With more than my share of happiness

To me this old world is a wonderful place
And I'm just about the luckiest human in the whole human race
I've got no silver and I've got no gold
Just a whole lot of happiness in my soul

Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I posses
I thank the Lord I've been blessed
With more than my share of happiness

Happiness to me is an ocean tide
Or a sunset fading on a mountain side
Or maybe a big old heaven full of stars up above
When I'm in the arms of the one I love

Happiness is a field of grain
Lifting its face to the falling rain
I can see it in the sunshine, I breathe it in the rain
Happiness everywhere

Happiness, happiness,…

I was tempted to carry on for another three hours. But I resisted the temptation. Instead we gathered around the Lord's table, remembered a body broken and blood shed and celebrated the wonderful love of the risen Lord Jesus Christ who enables us to share in his resurrection victory and take the path of True Happiness.

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light